The use of Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) has been the subject of considerable discussion recently and one family farm which swears by them and has the results to prove it is Shandford, run by the Mather family, near Brechin.
Shandford is one of the 21 case studies showcased in the Planning for Profit Reference Guide which is available to farmers attending the roadshows taking place around the country. Planning for Profit is an initiative aimed at assisting farmers to ensure their businesses are well-placed to operate profitably in the face of possible reduction of support payments. It is supported by the Scottish Government’s Skills Development Scheme, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and NFU Scotland, and the next roadshow events will take place on Thursday 23rd January at Dewars Rinks, Perth and on Wednesday 12th February 2014 at the Thistle Hotel, Inverness
There are six members of the Mather family in the partnership with Graeme junior very involved in the livestock enterprises at Shandford. This side of the business involves a commercial herd of 360 mainly Limousin cross cows and 1300 breeding sheep.
The family has recently started using Aberdeen Angus and Shorthorn bulls on the heifers and is retaining some for replacements, finding them quiet to handle and milky. The terminal sire on the cows is always a Charolais.
A small herd of 20 pedigree Charolais cows are kept to produce home-bred bulls for use on the commercial herd and Suffolk and Texel tups are bred on the farm too. “We have much more confidence in using home-bred bulls and tups as we know their families and can select for good traits,” said Graeme Mather.
The herd is spring and summer calving and all heifers not retained for replacements are finished. Spring-born bull calves are kept entire and finished at 12 to 14 months of age, while the summer-born steers are sold as forward stores at Forfar market.
The finished cattle are sold through ABP at Perth, with the bulls averaging 360kg to 380kg deadweight and the majority grading E and U. Heifers are finished at 18 to 21 months of age at around 330kg deadweight and for the last two years everything has been R grade or better.
Mr Mather finds EBVs a valuable management tool and number one on the list of good scores is ease of calving, followed closely by birth weight and ideally bulls will also have good growth figures. He said they like to produce bulls which are above average in most traits, known as “curve-benders”.
By using EID tags he records birth weights and can calculate growth rates and link those back to any particular bull.
“The daily liveweight gain for the bulls from birth to slaughter is 1.5kg per head per day,” he said. “I have been recording for 15 to 16 years now and in the last ten years the improvement in daily liveweight gain has been 0.45kg per head per day. This mirrors exactly the improvements in the bulls’ EBVs.”
Mr Mather worked out that the difference between finished cattle sired by the bull with the poorest EBVs and the one with the best figures over a year averaged £275. He said: “The cattle from the best bull finished earlier at better weights and had better conformation, making them much more profitable.”
A member of a beef steering group with ABP and Sainsbury’s, Mr Mather uses the figures to improve efficiency of production, but also to provide the supermarket with a better, more consistent product.
In an effort to improve the performance of the ewe flock, Mr Mather has been using performance recorded rams for the past four to five years. The 1000 Texel cross and Mule ewes and 300 ewe lambs are tupped with home-bred Suffolks and Texels and since starting to performance record, he has noticed that lambs are finished significantly earlier.
“We sell our lambs at Forfar Market when they get to over 40kg liveweight and they have been reaching the target weight quicker the last few years. It is too much work to EID tag all the lambs but as long as we can keep improving the genetics, we should continue to see an improvement in finishing times.”
The next Planning for Profit Roadshow events will take place at Dewars Rinks, Perth, on Thursday 23rd January and on Wednesday 12th February 2014 at the Thistle Hotel, Inverness.
Booking is essential for these free roadshows and places (including lunch) will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. To book your place contact Kirsty at QMS on 0131 472 4040 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, address and telephone number.